Posted By Paul G April 5th, 2022 Last Updated on: April 5th, 2022
Join Paul G for an interview with Pow Wow dancer and children's book author Ria Thunderchild.
In her debut picture book, professional Indigenous dancer Ria Thundercloud tells the true story of her path to dance and how it helped her take pride in her Native American heritage.
At four years old, Ria Thundercloud was brought into the powwow circle, ready to dance in the special jingle dress her mother made for her. As she grew up, she danced with her brothers all over Indian country. Then Ria learned more styles–tap, jazz, ballet–but still loved the expressiveness of Indigenous dance. And despite feeling different as one of the only Native American kids in her school, she always knew she could turn to dance to cheer herself up.
Follow along as Ria shares her dance journey–from dreaming of her future to performing as a professional–accompanied by striking illustrations that depict it while bringing her graceful movements to life.
PowWows.com receives a commission from Amazon from purchases made on the link to Ria's book.
Paul Gowder: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of the Pow Wow Life podcast. I'm Paul Gowder, founder of powwows.com. Thank you for being here for another episode. If you're new or not familiar with powwows.com, we are your place to come learn, explore, experience and connect with Native American culture. We're open to everybody. Whether you grew up on a reservation or you're just interested in learning more about the culture, and maybe heading to your first powwow. Hope we are the jumping off point so that you can experience and learn more about native culture. Today's episode is an interview with Rhea thundercloud, she started off as a Pow Wow dancer, then joined a professional dance troupe and traveled around the world performing classical and contemporary dances. Throw that she turned it in to a career and has now come out with a children's book about Pow Wow dancing. It's a really amazing story. She sees her opportunity and is doing amazing things. So I hope you'll enjoy that interview. You can pre order her book now on amazon.com by heading to www.powwows.com/findingmydance all one word, finding my dance lowercase. So go out and support her by pre ordering that book on Amazon now. And you also help powwows.com by following that link because we receive a small commission from amazon for purchases made on that link at no extra cost to you so you can support Ria, powwows.com all at one time. Don't forget to listen to the end of the episode. I'll have this week's trivia question. Some announcements about what's going on with powwows.com and some other special things happening. So stay tuned for that. But here is our interview with Ria Thundercloud. Dancer, choreographer, and now a book author, thanks so much for being here. Can you introduce yourself and tell us about you know what you've been up to lately because you I'm excited to find out more about the this book you just had come out.
Ria Thundercloud: Thank you. Thank you for having me. My name is Ria Thundercloud, I am from San Diego Pueblo, Taos Pueblo and the whole chunk nation. I am a professional dancer and a Pow Wow dancer as well as dancing since the age of four. I was brought into the power circle at Ann Arbor Palau in Ann Arbor, Michigan. So it was such a huge honor and honestly a core memory of mine to be brought into the power circle at such a young age. And so yes, I have a book coming out. It's going to be published in September of 2022. It's called “Finding my dams”. And the process to coming up with a book title name was actually very long process for me and my publisher. Because, you know, we were going with all these other options and all these other choices that were kind of more related to like my Indian name, my whole trunk name, and it kind of just evolves and, you know, with cultural sensitivity being Pueblo as well, there was some things that I wasn't able to like include in the book title and things like that. So finding my dance became like, I think the eighth like round of titles, so it's really exciting to see and I just feel like it fits perfectly because it really is like a symbolism of how my dance journey has been and how it started with Pow Wow. Like Pow Wow is the root and the core of like my dancing. So yeah, I guess that's a good, that's my intro.
Paul Gowder: Yeah. So before we talk more about the book, you know, you mentioned you started dancing at an early age. So I have to ask you, what were some of those Pow Wow that you remember? What are your favorites that you know, you would always hit every year and looking forward, or we hitting any now that powers are back in 2022?
Ria Thundercloud: Yeah, so significant Pow Wow that I remember specifically as an arbor Pow Wow, just because I was brought into the Pow Wow circuit there. Another one I really, really liked as a kid was to Metzen which no longer is happening. And the woodland bowl, the famous wooden bowl and Kushina, Wisconsin. I mean, that's like one of my favorite memories as a kid. And I feel like Pow Wow back in the 90s is different than Pow Wow today, because a lot of my memories, were camping, showering outside, just traveling, staying with relatives, it was just so different compared to how it is now like, our lives were so simple, but so amazing. And I just feel like camping was a big part of one of my like memories, and I feel like most of the powers I went to, in the Midwest were camping. I remember waking up like super sweaty sometimes in the morning, or like meeting the bathroom. And those are just like, those are just like things that were so normal. But also, like really cool. And I didn't realize like how significant it would be like turning into adult and how much I cherish those memories as an adult now. But as far as Pow Wow coming up, I do want to kind of like hit some Pow Wow in California. With COVID restrictions in my community, it's a lot harder to travel right now. So I think I'll just be local for the moment, which is gathering is coming up. So I'm in Albuquerque. So I'm excited for that one. I love going to like the pageant and just the festivities of it. It's also like a super entertainment Pow Wow. A lot different than like the Midwest or like, different like, more OG Pow Wow, I guess.
Paul Gowder: For sure, it's different. Everybody should go but it is different. So you're Pow Wow dancer, you travel around with your family. And you're right, I'm just coming in. And that was such a different style Pow Wow to, I remember going to that one in the early 2000s. That wasn't, that was really fun and it had that camping feel. And yeah, it was just a different experience. So you went from Pow Wow dancer to professional dancer? How did that kind of happen and tell us a little bit more about your career as a dancer?
Ria Thundercloud: Okay, so I would say that Pow Wow has been such a grounding dance for me because it was one of the first styles of dance that ever started dancing. Janesville just specifically, and then also on my mom's side, the corn dance. But you know, sometimes people are like, are you in high school rascal? And I'm like, no. And my parents actually met during the Relocation Act in the 1970s. So that's why like, my indigenous background is so like, polar opposite, almost, you know, I'm woodland and Pow Wow. So I think that's kind of important to kind of like note as well, because I don't know just like Pow Wow has really helped me ground myself to being from two completely different climates, regions, time zones, that I'm able to honestly connect with, like more people who I share that commonality with as well. So I started Pow Wow dancing at four with my brother who was a lot older than me. I have four older brothers, and they were all Pow Wow dancers as well. So I would go on the trail with them when my mom was breaking in the summertime. So that alone, like no parental guidance, I guess. We were and they were all teenagers. And I was, you know, juniors, were really young kid and to be traveling with my older brothers was just such an awesome, awesome experience. And we were exposed to so much and it was just so fun and going up. My brother, he actually went into professional modeling, he was discovered. I don't remember where how, because I was so young, but he was a professional model. So he kind of was in the industry, and I was able to witness him in this modeling professional industry, he lived in Milan, you know, he traveled all over the world modeling for you know, fashion shows and fashion magazines. And back then we didn't have like social media. So it wasn't like a big deal. But it really was amazing to witness. So I was exposed to contemporary dance around the age of 13. I had never like, knew what contemporary dance was, I always was like, really into sports, track, cross country. You know, I'm really into like, athletic sports, but I never knew what contemporary dance was. And I went to one of his shows he was in theater, they're making can take theater classes, and they have this contemporary performer come out. And I was just, I guess, you know, I was taken aback by how like graceful the movement was, and something I've never really seen. I was extremely just like, honored to witness something like that. So I specifically remember like, tapping on my mom's shoulder, and I'm like, oh mama. She's like, what I was like, I want to do that. That's what I want to do. So for my 13th birthday, my mom took me to my first dance class. It was a jazz dance class. And I was very overwhelmed, because I had no idea what to expect, you know, just kind of threw me in there. They're like, test out this class, see if you like it and I loved it. I loved it. And from there, I just went full force, I started taking all these other dance classes. I started taking ballet, jazz, tap, modern hip hop. And then I started competing, like, nationally as well. And I auditioned for solo and I started making I started auditioning for dance companies at a young age, the Nutcracker and red shoes, I was able to participate in all these amazing ballets, and travel. So at the age of 16, I went professional with this dance company, and I don't have California, it's pretty insane, because technically, they're supposed to be with parental guidance until you're 18. But I was given permission by my mother to tour with this dance company. And it was honestly I've such an amazing experience. I was training like 10 hour a day, doing costume rehearsals, sound check, working with a lot of older dancers, I think there was one 18 year old I was the youngest I was 16. And everybody else in the company was at least 18 and older. So I really was able to kind of learn a lot from them just through conversation dancing, experience wise, and they really took me under their wing each and every single company member took me under their wing, and you know, she helped me and showed me and kind of mentored me because they knew I was like the baby of the group. So it really was an awesome experience. And after that, I graduated high school and I took off and started dancing with three other dance companies and kind of toured all over the country and the world. And a big part of that constant thing that listed the call cycle in my dance career is that power was no constant, it always remained something that I would always be able to go back to and it was always assessable. Because no matter where you go in the country, there's piles everywhere. And then you just feel right at home, as soon as you like, go to a Pow Wow and you're gonna know somebody, I mean, the one degree separation Indian Country is just so amazing. So like, you can go anywhere in the country and probably run to somebody that you know, somehow someway. So that was the one constant thing throughout, like my professional career that I was able to rely on when I was dancing. And also not only that, just like the different reservations from traveling, and Pow Wow was really cool. So I think that even to this day, like I started dancing on a few like Pow Wow groups, you know, and was able to travel with them as well, which is really awesome. And that was really kind of cool to see Pow Wow and like a theatre sense. Again, and since it hasn't happened in a very long time, but it's really coming back and it's really awesome.
Paul Gowder: So you spent your time touring as a dancer, doing Pow Wow and then professionally. So where did the idea come from you know, trying to write a book from all of that?
Ria Thundercloud: Yeah. So I think that, well, I was doing an actual performance in Santa Fe. And I was performing for five people and I was like, that's interesting, five people, they must be really special. Because I've never done a show for five people with five people only, so I kind of asked like the lady that hired need a production company? And I was like, who are the five people? Oh, and she's like, Oh, they're five fashion magazine editors. Glamour, Logue, Marie Claire, Elle, and I can't remember the fifth, the fifth magazine. So I was like, what? So she was like, yeah, so I knew that this was going to be a rare opportunity in time where the stars aligned for me to be in a room with five fashion magazine editors. I don't know if the opportunity would ever come up again, it hasn't thus far. So after our performance, you know, we did like a little Pow Wow performance. And after a performances, we do like a meet and greet. And then you can take photos. So to me, I saw it as an opportunity to introduce myself and kind of bring awareness to these fashion magazine editors who are all in into fashion, that ingenuity and indigenous representation as really, I was like, You guys are at the forefront, you know, to put it out there that there's real indigenous creators and people and dancers and scholars, and writers and models, and all of these native people who possess so much talent, and are actual people from the reservation who lived these lives, these are authentic native lives and have authentic native stories to share. And you know, I was kind of just like, telling them, I was like, you know, it would be amazing to have authentic indigenous representation in your magazines, instead of you know, using non-native’s, to model native clothes or to model or, or tell our stories. For us, I was like, it's been really disheartening, you know, as an indigenous person to constantly never see us and, you know, media at all, at all at all. So two weeks later, I get a call from Glamour magazine. And she was like, we have great news, we want to feature you and our magazine. So I was like, very overwhelmed with the news. And it happened so quickly, it was literally a matter of days that they had me look with the photographer, they wanted to, they were interviewing neither fact checking me they were doing all these different things. So that's kind of how this book started, initially, because the article came out. And it was an amazing platform. I am very excited and honored to be a part of Glama. So I got a call from Penguin Random House. And they reached out to me and they were like, wow, we really we saw your article. And we think it's really touching, because I do share about some discrimination or racism that I felt as a young teenager, and how it was hard to kind of navigate that discrimination. And the one thing that made me feel proud and always rooted in who I was dancing. And Pow Wow is you know, obviously included in that. So once this publisher reached out, she was just like, we really want to share your story. And that, I'm sorry, we think that it would be amazing to turn it into a children's book, a children's picture book. And I think writing the book was one challenge in itself. And I'm not an illustrator, or an author, I mean, I'm an artist, you know, like a graphic designer. And so describing a Pow Wow to a non-native was very challenging as well. Describing the beauty, the nuances, it's the aesthetic of a Pow Wow, the energy of a Pow Wow was so hard to explain it to a non-native if they've never been there. So putting all of this amazing Pow Wow, and the Pow Wow trail and stories that you have to share into a book, but into a tiny sentence as well. It's very challenging for me, because I just, there's just so much immense, beautiful things to say about traveling and Pow Wow and dancing. So it was really hard for me to condense my thoughts to like a sentence or two. But I mean, it was really fun. And that's kind of like, that's how it all happened. It just, it honestly was amazing. It kind of seems like magical, that it just it happened. Because I never imagined in a million years that I would be writing a children's book. So it feels like a huge, huge honor.
Paul Gowder: It's awesome. Congratulations for the book, but also congratulations on taking that opportunity you had in that performance there and really seizing that that's amazing. I don't know that a lot of people would have had that forethought. So that's really great that you seize that and look at what it's turned into, that's great. So the book comes out September 13th looks like it's gonna be available on all the major platforms, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, all those places. So, now that your book author, you've been featured in glamour, what's next for you?
Ria Thundercloud: Oh, I'm still gonna keep dancing. Right now I'm working on some creative projects. I think that what I've noticed when it comes to, I know it's a children's book, but writing this book, I really noticed that it's like a communal art, because I needed a lot of reassurance when I was writing it to share this because I figured, like, it's such a huge platform, it kind of felt overwhelming and intimidating to me and so many ways. And I just felt like I was representing all of Indian country. Not only that, but like you know, the Pow Wow trail and my tribes. So it was very overwhelming and intimidating for me to kind of get past a certain point in my writing. But I what I've noticed from this whole experience is that writing is such an amazing way to story tell with my dancing. So right now I'm really working on dancing projects, were incorporating a lot of storytelling within it, because I feel like that's kind of what happened in this book, I didn't realize that I was storytelling and dance and storytelling, and Pow Wow storytelling, and all of it is so interconnected, they're really not disconnected whatsoever. So right now I'm working on some more projects where I am intersecting and weaving together different mediums now, like spoken word, video, audio dancing, because like that in right now, I am just trying to stay focused and keep, keep riding, the momentum that I have going right now, because being self-discipline, as an artist has been really hard. But what I've noticed is that as long as I consistently work on something, I'm able to do it. And that's where the inspiration comes, I have to do all of the coordination every single day to make sure that I'm staying in a good heart and a good mind to keep creating projects. And right now I have like a few shows coming up, I'll be going to Washington, DC, I hope to have a book tour. So I'm planning that and working with different tribes and reservations to you know, I would love to do live book readings for different reservations and kids and maybe some performances. You know, I would love to get dancing with the kids out there and, you know, have these circles and these like book readings, I think it would be really great to connect with communities and really have these conversations with kids and stuff. Because dancing was something I had no idea that contemporary dance especially was I had no idea like how expressive and how liberating it is to actually be able to move your body and reclaim all of your body parts and you know, affirm to yourself that your body is strong, and I feel like dance has really done that. And I just want to share that with, you know, kids, because when I grew up you know, pretty much I felt like I'm pretty tall for a native girl well, for a Southwest native. So I was always expected to play basketball or be in sports, and I just did not have the hand eye coordination for basketball. I tried so hard. But you know, the performing arts is really, it's really something amazing. And I think that dancing is like, really cool and I just want to share that journey with other native kids. That you know, it is amazing to be expressive and artistic and vulnerable and dance is so vulnerable. And I just want to share more of my vulnerability as well because Pow Wow have exposed me to a certain life at such a young age, traveling, you know, staying with friends family laughter You know, and that was when I was a kid but as I got older as a teenager traveling, that expose me shoehorn another life as well. I almost felt like a rock star like just traveling all the time going to all these new cities and you know, meeting all these new people and just like having a grand old time, so I don't know. I just really feel like there's just so much to share and it's exciting.
Paul Gowder: That's great. Oh just, so my daughter's had enough to practice. She's one [inaudible 25:00] they do a lot of dancing too. So again, this is congratulations, a really incredible story to see you're going from Pow Wow to glamour to book and also performing contemporary dance around the world, that's really pretty inspirational. So thank you for sharing that and I look forward to seeing you soon, hopefully.
Ria Thundercloud: Yeah, thank you. Just to remind everyone, my book will be out September 13, 2022. I'm on Facebook, Ria Thundercloud, and I am also on Instagram at you know, instagram.com/dancerria_. So, you know, follow me and I will, I'm excited to share this journey with everyone. It's just, it's just started, you know, and I've known about this book for so long, and it's so exciting to share the news finally, and when my publisher was like, it's out you can, you know, share the news with people so it can be ordered on tons of platforms, Walmart, Amazon, Barnes and Nobles. So I'm excited to see it hit the shelves and you know, kind of see like, teeth out there. It's really exciting and nerve wracking.
Paul Gowder: I'm hitting the preorder button right now on Amazon.
Ria Thundercloud: Oh, awesome. Thank you so much.
Paul Gowder: All right. Well, thanks so much for being here.
Ria Thundercloud: Thank you, thank you for having me.
Paul Gowder: Don't forget to head over to www.powwows.com/findingmydance to pre order your book, support Ria and go ahead and order that book. Hey, maybe you want to order a couple. It's Mother's Day is coming up, and of course is never too early to start shopping for the holidays. Alright, so this week's trivia question is another theme around gathering of nations. It's coming up soon. I'll talk more about that in just a minute. But who was the last crowned Miss Indian world? We interviewed her on the show just a couple of weeks ago. So who was the last crowned Miss Indian world at the gathered your nation's Pow Wow? Alright, so let's talk about that. In just a few weeks, we will be streaming live the 2022 gathering of nations, don't miss any of that it's going to be amazing, you can head over to patreon.com/2022GON to find out all the information about how you can watch the stream. What's going on in the Pow Wow. It is North America's largest Pow Wow and you're not gonna want to miss any of the singing and dancing will have two streams going on all the parallel stuff going on inside the arena. And we'll be streaming on a separate stream all the performances on stage 49. So that's all of your music acts, your comedians, your dance groups, and all kinds of other things going on out there at stage 49 powwows.com/2022GON for all that information. And a special shout out to our patrons. They are the booster club powwows.com and they are supporting by making contributions to really help move the site forward. To keep us producing great content like this hiring more writers and streaming more Pow Wows, you can join our Patreon community by heading to powwowsnation.com. I'd love for you to be a part of that. And thanks to all our patrons for their continued support. Also, we've got a big giveaway going on this month with all the stuff we're doing for gatherer nations. It's only right that we have a big giveaway this month, we're giving away five Pendleton blankets. Thanks to our friends over at Pendleton for presenting this contest. You can head on over to powwows.com/win enter daily for your best chance at winning. And don't forget we are hiding secret little bonus codes all throughout the website in our email or newsletter or live shows, and even podcasts. So here is your special bonus code to get extra entries into the Pendleton blanket giveaway 32546, that's 32546. Head over to powwows.com/win enter that bonus code and get your extra entries. That code is only available for listening to this podcast and we'll have more throughout the month of April. So be sure to enter daily to get the best chances to win one of those five Pendleton blankets. Again, this contest is presented by our friends over at Pendleton, so thank them for their support too. Alright everybody, that wraps up this episode of the Pow Wow Life podcast. I hope you enjoyed our interview with Ria Thundercloud. And I hope to see you at gathering nations or online in the chat during the stream. Have a great week everybody and I'll see you soon.
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